stats Making the Business of Life Easier

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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)


The young and the restless

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Patti Gower.
The Globe and Mail, December 3, 2001

Part 2 of 7: A half-hour away, a world of difference

Ashern The school that Roseanna shuns is a half-hour drive from the one she has embraced. They might well be in two different countries.

When the bus drops her at Ashern Central's front door, the sun is barely above the tree line - just enough to glimmer on the gauntlet of trophy cases she must run in the school's main hall. Ashern's athletic prowess, highlighted by a gymnasium draped with pennants, is the stuff of Interlake legend. The senior girls volleyball team has been to the provincial championship three years in a row.

Roseanna knows the gym at the reserve school has no pennants - only a hardwood floor that was ruined last spring when someone left the locker-room showers running for an entire weekend.

"If they (aboriginal students) feel comfortable they'll likely be more successful in school."
David Hull,

Next to Ashern's trophy cases are walls of graduating class photographs that continue to tell the story of disparities. Starting in the 1970s, each successive year sports more faces - more natives faces too - as more and more Prairie children opted for a higher education. In the farming district around Ashern, 42 per cent of the population has a high-school diploma. In Fairford, it's 28 per cent.

Roseanna says her photo will hang on the wall one day, but right now she is simply trying to fit in. Her bell bottoms and the Champs nylon jacket that slides stylishly off her shoulders meld seamlessly with the hip-hop dress code in the corridor, and for a brief moment the native girl seems at ease in this other world.

But then she reaches Dave Hull's math class, and takes her seat alone in the back row. On her desk is a calculator and Pepsi bottle, the tools of higher learning here.

Although Roseanna's parents want her to get an education just like the white kids in Ashern, it is up to Hull to ensure her schooling has a native flavour. As well as teaching math, he is the school's aboriginal education adviser, promoting a new provincial initiative to bring native students into mainstream education and adapt mainstream education to native viewpoints.

As part of the experiment, course material is under review, history books are being revised and posters depicting aboriginal success stories have been taped to Ashern's walls, next to the trophy cases. It's all part of a plan to foster greater understanding and to put native students at ease. "If they feel comfortable," Hull says, taking the plan to its logical conclusion, "they'll likely be more successful in school."

But even he admits that much of what native students need is just good teaching. Like Roseanna, reserve kids tend to sit at the back of their classes, rarely speaking up. There are no native students on the honour roll, and few on the school's championship sports teams. Just five of Ashern's 30 graduates last year were native, but the year before there were only two.

Hull coaches the junior varsity badminton team, and four of the 12 girls are native, but "off-reserve," meaning their families live in and around Ashern.

It is up to him to draw the others out.

As his Grade 10 math class begins, Hull moves from desk to desk, letting the 19 students who have shown up today know in private what their mid-term mark will be. He stops a little longer at Roseanna. She has a 61 - better than most but both teacher and student know it could be much higher.

Hull urges her to bear down and asks if she needs extra help to prepare for an upcoming exam. She shakes her head, but the truth is that she can't stay after school because the bus back to the reserve leaves at 3:30 sharp. Hull seems to know that, and suggests she get help during lunch or spares. Roseanna shakes her head again. Her lunches are booked.

Dishevelled but calm, Hull looks more the part of math teacher than cultural peacemaker as he returns to the blackboard to explain the algebraic concept of dilation.

When he moved here from New Brunswick five years ago, no one much cared about the handful of aboriginal students who drifted in and out of the school. Few stayed long enough to do much more than inspire racist graffiti and take part in a few fights.
THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 7):

Photo Essay
Home and school

1. The daily trek
'One of the girls around here said I was turning white'

2. A half-hour away, a world of difference
Class photos, pennants and a ruined gymnasium floor speak volumes

3. Change rolls across the prairies
Ashern tries to create a more welcoming environment for natives

4. Hanging out in the 'Nee-Chee'
The reserve kids stick together, and talk about the white kids who give them dirty looks

5. Life at the Fairford school
Crime, gangs, violence and verbal abuse an unwelcome part of tough curriculum

6. Reserve politics part of the problem
Band has the right to hire and fire all staff at Fairford's school

7. 'I just want to get out of this little place'
Making the trip to school a way of opening minds, opening worlds



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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